As a dietitian, I help people improve their diet. This means I see people starting from the Standard American Diet (SAD) and move them towards a real food diet, but I also see people who have been on the paleo diet for quite some time and are still having trouble. Though my patients vary in where they’re coming from, these are some of my most common recommendations.
1. Eat Nose-To-Tail
It’s easy to eat too much muscle meat when starting the paleo diet and not enough of the other parts of the animal (like the skin or organ meats). Part of this stems from the press about paleo, which tends to paint paleo as if practically all we eat is meat (see the picture of this article…really?). If this is someone’s introduction to paleo, it’s easy to see why they might be focused on consuming muscle meat! Because organ meats, skin, and bones (in the form of bone broth) are not a common part of the Standard American Diet (SAD), we don’t think much about incorporating these foods into our diet when we first start. However, it is crucial to include these parts (along with muscle meat) in order to nourish ourselves properly. I encourage you to watch Denise Minger’s wonderful presentation from the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium – she discusses the problems with including solely muscle meat without eating the rest of the animal. Minger mentions that our high intake of methionine (an amino acid that comes from muscle meats), combined with our low intake of glycine (an amino acid from skin, bones, cartilage, etc) is a setup for chronic health issues.
Think about it: traditional cultures value every part of the animal and use them all in some capacity. It is only very recently that we have started to pick and choose what parts of the animal we consume. Eating the whole animal ensures a balanced intake of all the amino acids, so it is wise to do just that! An added benefit of glycine is that it improves your sleep quality (read more about the importance of sleep in Tip #3).
The Lesson: Nose-to-tail eating has important health benefits – don’t just eat muscle meat!
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment with Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have gotten some bad press in the last few years, especially in the paleo community. The truth is that traditional cultures have thrived on a variety of diets – some very low in carbohydrates and some very high. A low carbohydrate paleo diet can be helpful for some people in the modern world, especially those with metabolic disorders. However, that doesn’t mean that it is the best choice for everyone. Given that traditional cultures thrived on many different macronutrient ratios, why are some of us intolerant to carbohydrates? Chris Masterjohn gives a glimpse into the answer to this question in his 2012 AHS talk.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: carbohydrate intake is a highly individual thing and a matter of experimentation and personalization. If you tolerate safe starches (sweet potatoes, taro, yucca, etc) and feel better including them in your diet, go for it! If you experiment and find that they make you feel worse, it’s an indication that they should be kept on the low side (at least for now).
The Lesson: Experiment to find the proper level of starch that works for you. **Note: if you have been diagnosed with a metabolic condition like diabetes or metabolic syndrome, please consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to help you figure out what works best for you.
3. Pay Attention to Sleep and Stress
I always talk about sleep and stress with my clients. Some are surprised, thinking “isn’t she a nutritionist?”. What we discuss during our appointment is that sleep and stress have a lot to do with how our body reacts to everything – including food. If you’re looking to manage blood glucose levels and diet alone isn’t doing enough, look at your sleep: short sleep duration is associated with impaired glucose tolerance. Almost a third of Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep each night and getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a consistent basis is associated with cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors, depression, automobile and workplace accidents, learning and memory problems, and an overall increase in mortality. Clearly, sleep is important to our health.
Work on improving your sleep quality by reducing your exposure to artificial light; put away electronics earlier in the night, install F.lux on your computer, and even wear orange goggles if that’s what it takes! Getting quality sleep is worth it. Want some more tips? Here are eight great habits to get into for better sleep.
Stress is another big one that we tend to overlook, but it absolutely affects our food choices. Stress exposure is associated with hunger, binge eating, and ineffective attempts to restrain eating – that doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship with food to me. Take a look at your life: are you happy? Do you enjoy your social life? Your work? Be mindful of places or situations where you feel less than your best and avoid them or, even better, work to make them more enjoyable. Start practicing yoga, meditation, tai chi, or another mind-body medicine activity. Your body will thank you.
The Lesson: Though what you eat is important, make sure you get enough quality sleep and keep stress levels low.
4. Acknowledge Your Progress and Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
I always tell clients to keep a journal of their progress, and Chris includes the Progress Tracker in his Personal Paleo Code for good reason: it’s very easy to forget how far we’ve come. If that’s you, start writing down what you’ve accomplished every day. Keep in mind that when I say this, I don’t mean start weighing yourself daily, taking measurements all the time, etc. What I mean is take the time to acknowledge your behavior changes. You ditched the mid-afternoon trip to the vending machine? Awesome – write it down. Your sleep is better because you started making your evenings more relaxing? Great! Take the time to write down your successes and periodically go back and read your entries. Though these successes might seem small, they add up. Use your journal to reflect on the hard work you’ve put into these changes.
Keep in mind that this is your private journal. You choose who you share it with, if anyone. Its purpose is to keep your awareness on your progress and allow you to reflect on your hard work. You don’t need to compare notes with anyone. Your diet and your life are yours, so stop comparing your results, your success, your failures to others – it never helps. Focus on you.
The Lesson: Take the time to write down your successes and go back and read them periodically. Don’t compare yourself to others, this is all about you!
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Close the nutrient gap to feel and perform your best.
A daily stack of supplements designed to meet your most critical needs.
The paleo lifestyle is often ridiculed by many, yet few people really understand it.
I devoured this entire article before realizing it was you, Kelsey! Proud to have you as my nutritionist 🙂
This past month, I’ve been regularly making bone broth from “doggie” bones I bought from my butcher (from grass-fed/pastured beef) after reading an article by Mark Sisson (Mark’s Daily Apple) about how skin, bone marrow, and cartilage are superfoods.
I also regularly buy wild caught pacific salmon w/skin, and use to take the skin off and throw it out. Needless to say, I stopped doing that, and now eat the skin, scales and all.
I can attest to the benefits. I’ve been able to get at least seven straight hours of sleep every night for the fist time since I can remember.
I experiment a ton. Mostly exactly as you said, inside those main four parameters.
The easiest way for me to tell, especially what carbs mess me up, is whether or not I can see the next day. My eyes hover around -2D these days (huge improvement from -4D, a year ago, pre paleo and pre Frauenfeld Clinic eyesight rehab). If I eat the wrong carbs, my eyesight might go down as much as two lines on the Snellen chart, the day after. Being sensitive to measuring my eyesight frequently anyway, this is one of the most scientific ways I’ve found to see results – at least for my own physiology.
Great post – I’m looking forward to reading more of your blogs in the future.
Question – I love sweet potatoes but they do not love me back (gas pains, bloating 4-5 hours later). I’m wondering if there is a way to teach your body to digest them better? Same thing with regular potatoes. For now, I’ve added in rice and bananas and my sleep has improved tremendously.
Sweet potatoes bother me if I don’t boil them thoroughly and use a digestive enzyme. The light colored yam or sweet potato is not a problem. Supposedly most store bought yams are just a different variety of sweet potato. I use Now Foods, Optimal Digestive enzymes, which are mild, effective, and not expensive.
I am really happy that the paleo diet and similar diets such as GAPS have introduced organ meats to the American audience. I grew up in Europe where organ meats are a huge part of our diets and nobody ever questioned their goodness.
I never let ANY part of an animal go to waste!! From the skin to the bones, everything gets used! 🙂
Awesome! The first two points (muscle meats and carbohydrates) have been on my mind recently, so I enjoyed seeing them addressed here (:
Thanks very much for the link to F.lux – looks like a great tool!
Ever hear of “Souse”? I read the ingredients, it looks like everything they scoop up off the floor of a pig slaughter house, I got some, but am a little timid about trying it. Also, I heard chicken skin is very high in omega 6, is that true?
“isn’t she a nutritionist?” — you must give a very different impression in person? 😉
Oops, missed the note at the top about this being a guest post.
How do you know if you tolerate more carbs or not????
I always suggest keeping a food and symptom log/diary when you’re significantly changing something in your diet and want to see the effects. So keep a diary of how you feel during your carbohydrate level change, and compare to how you feel currently. You can also take blood glucose measurements (buy a glucometer) if you’re concerned that you might not tolerate it in that sense. I have had many clients who have been on low carb diets for a long time, and pretty quickly after adding some carbohydrate to their diet they feel significantly better. You should be able to tell fairly easily if you feel better or worse with the change. Hope that helps! Thanks for reading 🙂
When you freeze the liver in pill size pieces – are you freezing it and consuming it raw?
Hi Kelsey, I don’t drink bone broth, but I use it (homemade) to make soups that I take to work for lunch. Mostly Butternut squash or split pea soup. The broth is very gelatinous and makes the soups really thick. Do you think this is enough gelatin, or should I supplement.
I do love bone marrow, I’ll have to buy some beef bones and just make that and eat it. YUM.
If you’re consuming bone broth on a regular basis and adding in marrow bones on occasion that sounds good! I don’t think you’d need to supplement. You may want to figure out a way to get some liver in your diet though.
I just can’t bring myself to eat organ meat.(I do eat the skin when it’s there.) Are there other natural sources of glycine, or should I take a supplement?
How about eating liver the way Chris does, just cut it into pieces, put the pieces into an icecube tray and freeze them, when you make ground beef or lamb cut up the liver finely and add to meat. You wont be able to taste it.
If you want to include liver or organs and hate the taste, I have heard of some people freezing pills sized pieces and actually taking them as pills. Just a thought.
Lucky me I have begun actually be able to somewhat enjoy the taste of liver. My wife however loves it, she asks for liver, bacon and onions for her birthday dinner. I am jealous.
But definitely eat real bone broth, everyone likes broth right? Quick thought, would nutrients from liver be pulled out into a broth if the liver was added when making bone broth?
My wife and I made some bone broth and the stench of it made us both ill. So not everyone loves bone broth or perhaps we’re just totally incompetent at making it!
I’ve been Paleo for 6 months and started making bone broth right away. I’ve learned that I prefer it to be cooked only 12 hours in the slow cooker, on low the whole time (on high prevents it from “gelling”). I also prefer beef broth over chicken broth, and turkey broth makes me gag. But I use chicken and turkey broth for cooking just fine. So I make up a batch of beef broth once a week and keep it in my fridge to drink. 🙂
Do you use a crockpot? I had the idea that I could use mine outside in the garage 🙂
+1 for Crockpot in the garage, especially for fish/seafood broths which I’ll take outside! Be careful carrying it back inside.
Haha no Terry, you’re not incompetent! I’m glad other people have issues with the smell of bone broth. I make it in the crock pot at home, and my mom always moves it to the garage at first whiff. However, it only smells bad while it’s still cooking. After you strain out all the bones and actually use the broth in soups, etc… it’s fine! At least, that’s been my experience. I’m hoping to get a pressure cooker soon so the broth can be done in a couple hours, and no smells will escape.
If you truly can’t get yourself to eat organ meats and other parts of the animal (broth, bone marrow, etc), you may want to consider adding some high-quality gelatin to your diet. The company Great Lakes makes a grassfed gelatin powder you could use. In this week’s Roundup we also linked to recipe for gummies made from gelatin – that could work! Obviously the best case would be to get glycine and other important nutrients from the animal, but this would be a good option if you can’t do that.
Great post! Much needed. Super useful.
One important point. The post contains this note: ” if you have been diagnosed with a metabolic condition like diabetes or metabolic syndrome, please consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to help you figure out what works best for you.”
I suspect there are quite a few people out there with metabolic conditions who haven’t been diagnosed and don’t know there’s anything wrong. Blood test results can look pretty normal even when these conditions are present, and many medical doctors know little or nothing about them.
So I think it would be good to add some links to this post to other posts on the blog about metabolic conditions, so people can click over and see whether they have any of the symptoms.
Thanks. Well done.
Chris has an articles about testing your blood sugar at home. If you are concerned you may have problems with your blood sugar, it’s worth taking a look at.
Thanks, Kelsey. I’m not concerned about blood sugar problems. The point of my comment is simply this: It’s easy to have a metabolic condition and not know it, because diagnosing metabolic conditions isn’t a straightforward process. Just because a person doesn’t have a diagnosis doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a condition. I think this post should point that out. Some links in your post could lead some people to the information they need. That’s all I meant.
Thanks for the input Susan! I meant that the articles Chris has written would be a good resource for people if they are concerned they might have some metabolic issue going on.
Kelsey, this is an excellent article. I saved it to Pocket to make sure I can easily access it again. I want to read and absorb all the wonderful links you have provided. Write more articles for us!
Thanks for the kind words!
Chris, The article says to eat skin, is that correct? Just wanted to check with you since I do not recall you ever saying that before. Do you eat skin?
I do eat liver and bone broth, would that be sufficient?
David, this is mostly in reference to things like chicken skin, which people tend to discard. If you’re eating broth and organ meats that should be fine, but there’s no reason to throw away chicken skin, provided you’re getting your chicken from a pastured (and preferably organic)source.
Thank you, good to read that, as I’ve always been “cheating” with the skin. Usually recipes tell you to eat the skinless chicken but I just love to eat it with skin. I just finished the 8 week paleo meal challenge (for your reference:http://timreviews.com/paleo-recipe), following the recipes to 95% but with the chicken I couldn’t resist.
Meat, Organs, Bones, and Skin: Nutrition for Mental Health
Chris Masterjohn, PhD
I know Chris Masterjohn recommends eating skin. http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2011/03/anyone-doing-paleo-without-liver-bones.html
The Brits had pork scratchings in their pubs when I lived over there. People here in NZ like the pork crackling on roast pork. I guess it’s full of Vit D.
I’ve recently re-discovered STARCH! I feel much better with lower fat intake/higher carb intake than I ever did on high fat/low carb. My Polish ancestors are happy now 🙂
I’d love to see more recipes with organ meat in the paleo community instead of nut-based desserts, ‘faleo’ foods. I once bought a package of lamb kidneys. When I read up on how to prepare them (removing some white thing from the inside), I was thoroughly and completely grossed out and tossed them! FOR SHAME! I KNOW!
YES! I feel like all I see are desserts and ways to mimic our prior SAD recipes. Makes me sad.